Your Digital Footprint

digital footprintWhenever you go online you leave a digital footprint. When you share images and messages on social networking sites, post a personal blog or leave a comment on a website you are helping to create a “digital identity” for yourself – an online presence that others will take to be an extension of yourself. You should consider the implications of possessing an online presence and of the need to manage that presence.

We realise that it’s easy to come across as condescending when writing about social media: many of you will have in-depth experience of posting your own content, and if so you won’t want an explanation of what social media is or why you’d want to use it. However, some of you might not want to use social media, either through privacy concerns or just disinterest (and that’s ok!), or you might use social media only rarely. Those of you who less familiar with using social media are probably the ones who will get most out of this section.

Your active footprint

Your digital footprint is a ‘trail’ of your digital life. This footprint includes your online activity – your Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram pictures – and, because online services are usually linked to your real-life identity, your posts, tweets and pictures can often be found through a simple internet search of your real name or screen name. If this possibility worries you, you need to know how to configure the privacy settings on your accounts. We’ll get on to this later.

Your passive footprint

Your digital footprint also includes data you unintentionally leave behind as you browse the web, usually in the form of cookies that record what websites you visit and IP address records left in databases which document your visits to individual sites.

Why is this important?

One of the main reasons you should keep your digital footprint in mind is that many employers practice ‘cyber-vetting’: interviewers will research your social media presence. Employers can thus form an opinion of you before you’ve even had the chance to introduce yourself.

Activity 1

Advice for managing your online identity

When considering what information to make available online it’s important to think not only of the immediate future but also of the person you’ll be when you graduate in three or four years. Employers will search an applicant’s background to gain an idea of who they might be taking on: embarrassing photos from your first year at university might not seem so funny when you’re asked about them at an interview three years later!

Remember that most online services, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all offer a certain level of privacy control. Setting up controls can, for example, let you reduce the type and amount of your content that other users can see without first adding you as a friend. Tweaking these settings may also reduce the amount of data that search engines can gather about you and therefore present to someone who searches your name.

We can’t offer a comprehensive guide on these pages, but below we give you a few tips on the settings to consider when looking to reduce the amount of content that others can find about you on the internet.


Select an audience when you post. Facebook allows you to choose who can see your posts, when you make that post, as detailed on their privacy information pages. You can determine whether you’d like your post to be viewable by anyone (Public, i.e. both on or off Facebook), just your friends, or a particular subset of your friends that you have allocated to a group. If your settings are set to Public it’s wise to make sure you’re not posting something you might later regret. Facebook remembers this setting for next time, so once it’s set you don’t have to do it again.

  • Control who sees what – Facebook allows you to set who can see what information about you. It’s a good idea to restrict data such as your phone number and address to those you are already friends with; perhaps you might want to hide it completely. The Facebook audience selector performs this role for a variety of information. For example, it’s possible to retrospectively set the audience for your past posts, meaning you can hide them from anyone you feel shouldn’t be able to see them.
  • Facebook privacy checkup – This tool allows you to review all of the Facebook privacy settings, and allows you to quickly verify who can see what on your profile, and that you’re sharing your posts with who you want.


Twitter is a somewhat simpler service and so has comparatively fewer settings than Facebook. The main setting you’ll want to look out for is the ability to protect your tweets. In a nutshell this prevents your tweets being seen by anyone that doesn’t follow you. It also allows you to approve or deny those that ask to follow you after you have protected your tweets.


All other services should include some kind of privacy provision. If you’re concerned you’ll be able to find the privacy policies/settings on all of the social media sites.

Three final points

In addition to the advice above, consider setting up a new email address for job applications: using a college nickname or comedy reference in your email address doesn’t give the best impression when applying for jobs – you want employers to take you seriously.

Think carefully about what you say online: even something you intend to be innocent might be taken out of context

And remember: it’s not just employers who see your posts – family and friends are also impacted by what you put online, so make sure you are happy for all those you know to see what you post. Once it’s out there, it’s difficult to take it back…